Today’s PA Must Reads: Budget Cuts, Revenue Shortfalls, Vouchers and Brawling Texans

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

There has been a flurry of news from Europe this morning as leaders there try once more to demonstrate that they have the will and the financial muscle to aid European member states facing large budget deficits. 

The persistent failure of political leaders in Europe to take bold action has in part contributed to a crisis that seems like the world’s slowest moving train wreck. (Sorry, Harrisburg, you are clearly the second slowest.) Of course, political leaders with their heads in the sand is not just a character trait of European political leaders.

This morning’s Pennsylvania news is just chock full-o-Nuts!

First, in Philadelphia a brutal round of budget cuts and layoffs will now be shortly followed by another round of budget cuts and layoffs.

Despite shedding thousands of employees and making significant classroom cuts in recent months, the Philadelphia School District — which had earlier announced a $629 million budget gap — must make an additional $39 million in reductions.

Officials propose further slashing individual schools’ budgets by $10 million total, cutting professional development, English-language learner instruction, psychologists, instrumental music, athletics, educational technology, and bilingual counseling assistants. Together, those measures would save about $17 million.

And even if acting Superintendent Leroy Nunery II and the School Reform Commission sign off on those cuts, the district still has to find $22 million more.

The chief reason that school districts like Philadelphia are in trouble is that revenue collections keep coming up short as the economy remains well below full employment.

Which takes us to Scranton where the ski resort Snö Mountain, in addition to effectively defaulting on a state loan, owes the Scranton School District almost half a million dollars in property taxes.

Snö Mountain has defaulted on a $5 million state loan, according to public documents and interviews …

A state spokeswoman says the company hasn’t made a payment on its state loan in almost a year, and county records show the resort owes at least $1.55 million in unpaid bills …

Almost a third of the unpaid bills are real estate taxes owed to the Scranton School District and Lackawanna County …

The resort owes the school district and county $237,679.93 in real estate taxes, interest, penalties and fees for 2009 and another $226,537.06 for 2010 …

It is very tempting to look at the crisis unfolding in Europe and scoff at the way Europe’s political leaders have helped enlarge and spread the crisis they face, but to do that you would have to ignore the situation here. 

National job growth has stalled and there seems little hope that Congress will approve a jobs bill. And here in Pennsylvania, as the stories from Philadelphia and Scranton illustrate, we have our own unfolding crisis; where public-sector job losses and slow private-sector job growth have led to a rising unemployment rate.  

And what are Pennsylvania policy makers doing?  Passing a voucher bill that will drain more revenue from local school districts?

To add insult to injury, according to a new study, 15% of young people ages 16 to 19 were not enrolled in school or the workforce (the definition of disconnected youth) in Pennsylvania. The national average is 9%. So we have no action on jobs and one of our most serious long-term challenges, disconnected youth, remains unaddressed.

Eat your heart out, Silvio Berlusconi haters. 

A study released [by Half in Ten] Wednesday shows that Pennsylvania and West Virginia tie for worst in the nation in disconnected youth, a major contributor to poverty.

Yes, the situation in Pennsylvania looks pretty bleak, but at least we have a drilling tax to help offset the social costs of Marcellus shale gas extraction. Or not.  

In Bradford County, Pennsylvania’s most heavily drilled county in the 3-year-old rush to tap the Marcellus Shale, the nation’s largest-known natural gas reservoir, the stream of men from Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and elsewhere has been accompanied by increases in arrests, traffic violations, protection-from-abuse orders and warrants issued for people who don’t show up in court, law enforcement officials said.

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